Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 2000

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The Need for Environmental Information Quality

Maria Anna Jankowska
Associate Network Resources Librarian
University of Idaho Library


Environmental information is broad in its scope. It can be presented from many points of view, numerous sources, and in a variety of formats. It can influence people's perception in many different ways. By presenting a discussion on the history and role of the Task Force on the Environment and the Electronic Green Journal, this article attempts to answer a question -- how can we as information professionals play a real role in helping people find quality environmental information? The answer may lie in utilizing our skills in the creation and implementation of good, efficient searching strategies to serve the public needs and in the production of a creditable publication.


During one of the Environmental Media Service's press breakfasts, five of the nation's leading environmentalists discussed "The Environment in the 21st Century." Among concerns identified as facing the world in the next century were such issues as climate change, water shortages, the American environmental movement, making environmentalism global, and ecosystem services that are severely disrupted by human activities. Jane Lubchenco (1999) proposed how to deal with a disrupted ecosystem that can no longer purify our air and water, regulate climate, pollinate crops and generate fertile soil: "we need good, credible sources of information. We've seen junk science, ignorance and disinformation play out. We need much more comprehensive research. We need to be able to hear that information without having a lot of ridiculous assertions being portrayed as credible science."

To secure our environment, the issue of credible sources of information is critical. Information professionals cannot be responsible for creating research on the environment, but they can definitely be responsible for assisting with generating, organizing, archiving, and retrieving credible environmental resources. The problem is complex because environmental information:

All of the above characteristics make creating, archiving, searching, and accessing environmental information full of twists and turns. How can we as information professionals play a real role in helping people find quality environmental resources? The answer may lie in utilizing our skills in the creation and implementation of efficient searching strategies. This paper examines the contribution of the American Library Association's Task Force on the Environment (TFOE) and the Electronic Green Journal (EGJ) in developing strategies for finding credible environmental information sources. It is hoped that by creating good strategies, information professionals can work toward improving access to quality environmental information.

Ten years after the TFOE was created

On the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, the Social Responsibility Round Table (SRRT) of the American Library Association (ALA) formed a Task Force on the Environment. The energetic Elizabeth Morrissett from the Alaska State Library proposed the idea of creating a new task force. The Task Force was aimed at making librarians and the public aware of diverse environmental information sources, recognizing and seeking solutions to environmental cancers, and promoting the awareness of environmental issues in the ALA and library communities. That same year (1990), TFOE's first chair, Terry Link from Michigan State University, along with Task Force members, wrote in "Sources for a Small Plant: Environmental Bibliographies Reflect a Question of Values," about the role of SRRT in discussing central values for ALA. They observed, "To help us discuss and redefine values involved with environmental issues, there is a growing body of literature" (Link 1990). In this article, the first members of the TFOE compiled sources pertaining to green consumerism, biodiversity, pesticides, periodicals, books for parents and children on the environment, online information and sources of environmental information with a listing of the first electronic forums on BITNET, Biosphere, Ecology Discussion List, Conslink, Econet, and Usenet news groups.

The Task Force met four times during the 1990 ALA Chicago conference, and at the next Annual Conference in Atlanta presented its first program, "How Green is Your Library: Environmentalists at Work." Laurie Sabol, Elaine Clark, Terry Link, and John Sams focused on environmental issues concerning all libraries and various "green" initiatives that library staff can take at work. During this conference the Task Force also co-sponsored two sessions. TFOE and the Association of College and Research Libraries Law and Political Science Section presented a program on "Empowering the Public: Information Literacy for Environmental Issues," an overview of legal environmental issues that people confront at the local, state, and national level. The second was with the Public Library Association Metropolitan Libraries Section on "Environmental Information Resources." The members met twice for business meetings and discussed agenda items such as greening the ALA conferences, sick building syndromes, race/poverty and environment, environmental awards for the publishers, Green Library Journal, and the program for the next conference.

David Brower, one of the foremost environmentalists of our time, a chairman of the Earth Island Institute and a former chair of the Sierra Club, was a main speaker in the program on "Poverty, Development and the Environment: Information Challenges for Libraries" during ALA San Francisco in 1992. Brower and other presenters from the program discussed how governments and citizens are working to address poverty and the environment and how libraries and librarians can help societies deal with these problems. "Tools of the Trade or Poisons for the Planet: the Environmental Impact of Paper, Computers, and Microfilm," the second TFOE program, concentrated on environmental concerns with production and use of various media people use every day in their workplace. During two business meetings the Task Force concentrated on issues related to a green award, the Green Library in Berkeley, a proposal for publishing "Environmental Information Sources: a Guide for Citizens and Libraries," and a program for the New Orleans conference. Nancy Pope and Trish Cruise from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge were appointed as new chairs.

"Tracing the Ecological History of Louisiana's Coast Through Special Collections and Technology" was the Task Force's program during the ALA annual conference in New Orleans in 1993. Richard Condrey, Dwain Zack and Nancy Pope discussed research on costal ecology, using the special collections of LSU Libraries and scanning a 19th century French monograph, "Historical Collection of Louisiana." Two business meetings were mainly devoted to the Task Force's environmental bibliography book project, a resolution on chlorine-free paper, the program for the Miami conference, and election of a new chair, Maria Anna Jankowska from the University of Idaho, Moscow.

During the Miami conference in 1994 the Task Force presented "Libraries in the Balance: Bridges to Environmental Information" with David Fisher, Gayle Alston, Laura Powers, and Millicent Gaskell as speakers. Library Journal chose the program as a valuable source of current environmental information. During the business meeting, the Task Force worked on a dialog with the Exhibits Round Table concerning ALA's environmental impact on exhibitors, a letter to endorse the concept of the National Institute for the Environment, discussed the "Environmental Information Access Project" with Libraries in the Future in New York, created an electronic and printed newsletter for members, presented the resolution on a chlorine-free paper, and reelected Maria Jankowska as a co-chair of the Task Force, with Millicent Gaskell from the South Jersey Environmental Information Center, West Deptford Public Library, New Jersey.

For the ALA Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1995, the Task Force presented "Global Change Data and Information Systems: Roles of the Libraries," with Robert Rand, Linda Hill, Gerald Barton, Patty Owen, and Fred Stoss as speakers. The session concentrated on libraries participating in the U.S. Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS) to provide the full spectrum of information services for the worldwide dissemination of environmental information. During two business meetings Harriet DeCeunynck presented the update on the Clinton administration and the environment, the final version of the resolution on chlorine-free paper was written, the program for New York was discussed, and a new chair was elected, Fred Stoss from Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee.

"Environmentally and Socially Responsible Business: Finding the Information to Make the Decision to Buy or Invest" was a program for the 1996 New York conference, with Albert Wilson, TIAA-CREF; Alice Tepper Marlin, Council on Economic Priorities; Steven Lydenberg, partner Kinder Lydenberg and Domini & Co., and Terry Link, Michigan State University as panelists. The program tried to determine how the companies, corporations, or pension funds operate in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Members of the Task Force visited also the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Region 2 Library. The open house provided an opportunity for the TFOE members to meet EPA Library staff and to establish networking and communication links to environmental resources. The Task Force concentrated on an award for an outstanding environmental children books, bringing the resolution on chlorine-free paper to the floor for discussion for final presentation to SRRT at the 1997 Midwinter meeting in Washington, creation of GreenNotes, and the {TFOE electronic newsletter}. Fred Stoss from the State University of New York, Buffalo, remained the chair for the next year.

TFOE held two programs in San Francisco in 1997, "The Need for an Environmental Information Infrastructure" and "Environmental Education Resources for the 21st Century." The Task Force concentrated on the ALA Budget Analysis and Review Committee that stated that moving to chlorine-free would increase ALA expenses from $7,000 to $12,000 annually. The resolution recommended that ALA Publishing and Reprographics use only chlorine-free paper. A new chair was selected; Maria Anna Jankowska returned to the helm of the Task Force with Fred Stoss as a co-chair. In order to improve communication inside and outside the American Library Association, the {TFOE's home page} was created with links to valuable information sources. The TFOE's mailing list was established; {information about the list} and the {list archives} are available on the Internet.

Going Green @ ALA was a theme for the 1998 conference in Washington, D.C. "Chemical Facts -- Essential Resources for Your Library Collection," the TFOE program, presented two significant sources on hazardous substances to the public: {Chemical Fact Sheets} produced by the EPA and Chemical Scorecard by Environmental Defense. During the Washington conference the members of the Task Force participated in "Social Research and GIS: Applications for the Library," "National Library for the Environment -- An Update," and "Global Reach Local Touch: The Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters Libraries," an open house held at the EPA HQ Information Resources Center in Washington, D.C. During the business meeting the members of the Task Force endorsed the concept of a digital National Library for the Environment, discussed a resolution for environmentally responsible papers, and a program for the New Orleans conference. Maria Jankowska remained a chair for the next year.

For the New Orleans conference in 1999 the Task Force presented two programs. One was "Environmental Resources for Public, School, and Academic Libraries: Making Environmental Information Relevant" with Carolyn Offutt, Richard Huffine, Fred Stoss, and Maria Jankowska as speakers. The program concentrated on essentials of the EPA Superfund Program, navigating the EPA in cyberspace, resources for the Earth Day, and the Electronic Green Journal. The second program, "GIS as a Tool for Collaborative Spatial Decision Making (CSDM): Libraries Perspective," was co-sponsored by LITA Geographic Information Systems Interest Group. It presented the application of CSDM as an emerging field combining GIS and decision models in an environmental restoration plan for the Duwamish Waterway in Seattle and using an example of the {Idaho Geospatial Data Center} for answering a question on how libraries fulfill public needs for spatial information. Both business meetings concentrated on the questions how the Task Force can remain attractive among librarians and in which direction we should be moving to attract more members. Maria Jankowska as chair of the Task Force is working with Fred Stoss on the program "Libraries Making Earth Day Every Day" for the Chicago conference in 2000.

During these ten years, the Task Force created more than fifteen programs, supported by bibliographies on the environmental issues presented, influenced the ALA to adopt the recycled and chlorine-free paper policies, worked with Gale Research as consultants to a new line of environmental reference books for the Gale Environmental Library, supported the virtual {National Library for the Environment}, worked on greening the ALA conferences, and endorsed the Electronic Green Journal. The members of the Task Force wrote important works about the environment. It is impossible to list all of them but some prominent examples include the following:

Jim Dwyer, "Earth Works: Recommended Fiction and Nonfiction about Nature and the Environment for Adults and Young Adults";

Fred Stoss, co-editor, "Information Resources in Toxicology," and "Highlights: Trends '91: a Compendium of Data on Global Change."

Irwin Weintraub, "Alternative Agriculture: Selected Information Sources" in two parts in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Information;

Greta de Groat, "{Population and the Environment}" in the EGJ;

Terry Link wrote for Library Journal "Sources for the Small Planet" and compiled a home page with {"Environmental Resources}".

Flora Shrode edits a column "{Environmental Resources on the World Wide Web}" in the EGJ.

How Green is Electronic Green Journal?

The TFOE members were interested in helping the Green Library, Inc. (GLI) from Berkeley, California, in its action of sending environmental materials to information-poor countries. In 1991 this non-profit organization and librarians Maria Ann Jankowska, Terry Abraham, and Diane Prorak from University of Idaho Library in Moscow, Idaho, started a professional journal devoted to dissemination and sharing of environmental information sources. The goal of The Green Library Journal: Environmental Topics in the Information World (GLJ) was to assist in information retrieval and access to international environmental information sources. With an international editorial board the journal served as an international information exchange forum for librarians, information consultants, civic groups, organizations, educators, and individuals. The subscription payments were used to distribute free copies of the journal to developing and environmentally "at-risk" countries such as Cuba, Nepal, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, former Czechoslovakia, and Bolivia.

The first issue of the GLJ was published in January 1992. In four printed issues the GLJ presented more than 22 articles on issues about Amazonian projects, libraries and the public's right to know, sources on rural recycling, historical development of environmentalism, Infoterra, a bibliography on environmental racism, alternative environmental periodicals, and environmental management in the former Soviet Union. The journal also published columns on environmental resources, conferences, contributions, practicalities, and book reviews.

The Green Library, Inc. sponsored the production of the journal from monies appropriated through grants and donations. In 1993, funds were not available from GLI and librarians at the University of Idaho Library decided to launch a new, free-of-charge, full-text electronic journal. Maria Jankowska recruited Terry Abraham, Mike Pollastro, Francis S. Griego, as those who knew the most about the Internet, and Bill Kerr as a technical expert and in summer of 1994 the Electronic Green Journal was available via Gopher, World Wide Web (WWW) and File Transfer Protocol. To support the transfer of the EGJ articles anywhere in the world, for the first four years each issue was prepared in different versions of files such as HTML, GIF, TXT, and ASCII (Pollastro 1995). In 1996 the EGJ access style was changed from one huge file (the whole issue) into an issue consisting many files so that each of the files could be accessed separately.

During the last six years the journal underwent many technical changes, five different graphical appearances, changes in the editorial board, and difficulties experienced by some individuals. Irwin Weintraub's case was unique. In the first issue of the EGJ Irwin published an article entitled "{Fighting Environmental Racism: A Selected Annotated Bibliography.}" The article covered English language materials on environmental discrimination against people of color and the poor. When he wrote this article in 1994, he worked in the Library of Science and Medicine at Rutgers University, New Jersey. Today Irwin is working in the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY. Rutgers University did not grant him tenure because the article was considered "radical" and inappropriate for an academic environment. In 1999, the EGJ granted permission to make thirty photocopies of the bibliography for use in a course at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Permission was also granted to publish the article in a CD-ROM entitled "Environmental Context" issued in Australia. In addition, Weintraub received several requests from teachers who were interested in including the article as a reading in high school courses on environmental issues. A link to the article can also be found in whole or part on several environmental justice web sites.

Twelve electronic issues were published the with more than fifty articles on subjects such as environmental equity, international trade in toxic waste, chlorine debate, water quality and agriculture, fish mortality in India, selenium and soils, endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, evaluating ecological footprints, disposal of chemical weapons, and pollution in Japan, and contested leadership in the United States Forest Service. The EGJ also published 12 editorials, more than 20 columns on environmental conferences, actions, printed and electronic resources, and more than 130 environmental book reviews. Recently, the twelfth issue's papers honor Earth Day 2000.

The Public Affairs Information Service, General Science Index, and Biological & Agricultural Index, index the EGJ. Environmental Abstracts, CAB International, and the Environmental Knowledgebase produced by the International Academy at Santa Barbara are still reviewing the case. As far as online databases are concerned, the EGJ is included in the {UNESCO Social Science Online Periodicals Directory}, the Columbia Earthscape on-line resources for the Earth and environmental sciences, ChemWeb, BioMedNet, Infomine, National Library for the Environment, and others (Johnson 1999).

The EGJ became one of the earliest environmental professional journals distributed through the Internet. The journal is "green" because it is fully electronic, saving money by using less paper, less ink, and fewer natural resources. However, there is also an environmental impact of computing (Jankowska 1994). Since this is a refereed publication, the quality of its content is substantial and the members of editorial board are working hard to keep the journal booming in the competitive electronic world. This is not easy. The journal is distributed without charge through the WWW to more than 800 regular worldwide subscribers, plus the EGJ server counts more than 30,000 total hits/accesses per month. Without making any money, the journal has lasted for more than six years thanks to its devoted editors. Ron Force dedicated a new server to the journal at {http://escholarship.org/uc/uclalib_egj}. All of them deserve big kudos for working toward producing and disseminating quality environmental information.


A small group of enthusiasts of nature started the Task Force and the EGJ. The group is getting smaller every year in contrast to environmental destruction that is growing every day. People have already destroyed 30 percent of the natural world since 1970, according to the World Wildlife Fund's 1999 Living Planet Report (Mattern 2000).

The Task Force and the EGJ's roles are important ones and involve educating the public where to find and how to evaluate environmental information. Both entities encourage public to choose quality information on which they can base well-informed decisions and choices. These roles could be even wider and more significant with more support from the ALA and its members. The Task Force's attempt to publish "Environmental Information Sources: a Guide for Citizens and Libraries" was not successful due to the retirement of Herbert Bloom, who was the only one among the ALA editors convinced about the need for this book.

The duty of protecting and saving the environment is enormous and every effort should contribute toward its realization. Librarians with all their skills in creating, archiving, searching, and accessing information should feel responsible for environmental information quality.


Environmental Media Services. 1999 Environmental Leaders Make Predictions for the 21st Century. [Online]. Available: {http://www.ems.org/century/centuryadv.htm} [April 15, 2000].

Jankowska, M.A. 1994. Printed Versus Electronic: Policy Issues in the Case of Environmental Journal. Serial Review 20(3):

Johnson, B. 1999. Journal Reviews and Reports, Electronic Green Journal. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Fall 1999. [Online]. Available: {http://www.istl.org/99-fall/journals3.html} [April 15, 2000].

Link, T. and the Task Force on the Environment. 1990. Sources for a small planet: environmental bibliographies reflect a question of values. Library Journal 115(10):81-88.

Mattern, D. 2000. Humanity's juncture: abandoning the road of war for the road to peace. The Humanist 60(2):9-13.

Pollastro, M. 1995. Publishing an Electronic Journal: the Electronic Green Journal. CBE Views 18(2):27-29.


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